Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Facing Reality

Yes, this is a generic picture of Kitti. No, I couldn't think of a picture I could take that might be related to this post.
I wanted to talk, just a little bit, about that giant of social networks, the book of faces. Yes, I've seen The Social Network (the best bits of that film were the ones where I could recognise the soundtrack as being from Nine Inch Nail's Ghosts, or variations of, anyway. And, of course, the bits with the very attractive Andrew Garfield). I know what a big baddie Mark Zuckerberg has become - and yet pretty much all of us, for all of our whinging, still use Facebook.

As I understand it, a growing number of SL users have taken to making Facebook pages for their avatars, and in a few instances, those pages have been removed from Facebook on the grounds that they are not 'for real people'. In terms of Facebook policy, I understand the move, but from the perspective of the people who have put time and effort into these pages, it sucks massively. Often, there was no plan to deceive or trick anybody into thinking the SL avatar the page was for was, in any way, a flesh-and-blood being. 

On a related by tangential note: there exists now a search engine that apparently beats the Turing test - Eugene Goostman. The creepy little guy in the top left-hand corner looks like an SL avatar from 2009.  I wonder if he has a Facebook page.

There are, however, plenty of flesh-and-blood beings out there that use Facebook to create accounts for people who are not real in either life. You only have to watch five minutes of Catfish the TV show to see that, and to see the lengths some people will go to to maintain these false accounts - with intentions to deceive. 

There's no guarantee, either, that the accounts created by flesh-and-blood people using their real names and faces are any less deceptive. There are no restrictions on the number of personalities we are 'allowed', if you like, to play out on the Internet, and there's no obvious way to weed out the fake personalities from the real. It's also possible, depending on the way you engage with Facebook, that the information on your profile and/or your wall could create an image of you that is nothing like the real. And what I understand to be 'real' from one person's page might not be what you perceive to be 'real' from that same page.

As I have written about before, the levels of reality involved in avatar creation in SL vary drastically, and I suspect it might be equally difficult, in some instances, find the line between first life personalities and second, even amongst those who claim to take on a role when interacting in SL. How do you begin to prove the reality of a virtual existence that represents perhaps one side of your first life self? Is there a button you can tick on Facebook's Prove You Are Real system for 'this person is all my good bits', or 'this is a version of me who gets to live out some of my crazier dreams'? How about 'me, but with the legs that go on forever' - because I bet most of us would need to tick that option.

I realise that there are systems in place with Facebook that mean flesh-and-blood beings - 'real' people - can be investigated and asked to prove their reality, too. But it's still a complex issue. Being asked to prove that you are 'real' is a weird request, a really bizarre thing that we are being asked to do more and more frequently these days as computers become ever more wired into our lives. Passwords, your mother's maiden name, your first primary school, the name of your first dog, captcha forms, pin numbers, separate pin codes, alternative email addresses, someone-in-Korea-has-signed-in-to-your-account-is-this-you-? emails: it's only going to get worse and weirder.

Some laptops, designed for personal use, have face scanners and fingerprint readers built into them. My laptop has the latter, and when I first got it, a little icon would pop up in my taskbar practically begging me to create an electronic fingerprint lest some awful being attempt to switch my laptop on without my consent. I've a slightly better idea, Hewlett Packard - how about I just don't let weirdos who might attempt to use my computer without my knowledge into my house in the first place? It's not like it's an anti-theft device, really, either, because burglars are not really the types to hand my laptop back once thwarted.

Whilst setting up to take the picture for this post, Norah appeared behind me doing what appeared to be a sneaky pose. When I asked what she was doing, she said, and I quote, "photobomb = reality". So there. P.S. - no, I changed my dress for the opening shot, your eyes haven't gone squiffy.
I'm not really trying to start a philosophical debate here. I don't have the philsophical knowledge to back it up, and frankly, the nature of reality is interesting but has been debated a thousand times by a million people, all of whom are more interesting than I. What I wanted to do was draw attention to this phenomenon, and say...since when did we allow Facebook to weigh in on this? Since when did Facebook become a philsophical heavyweight?

And the bottom line is: understanding the necessity of such does not make it cease to be WEIRD.

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